Martin Luther King Jr. was born in 1929. He was a Baptist minister and social activist who was very important to the Civil Rights Movement in America. He worked for equal rights for African Americans during the mid-1950s and into the 1960s until he was assassinated in 1968. Martin Luther King Jr. was inspired by the teachings of nonviolence from Mahatma Gandhi. Martin Luther King wanted equality for African Americans, the poor, and victims of injustice. He used peaceful protests to create change in society. He was the driving force behind events such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington. These events were responsible for changing the laws in America such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Martin Luther King Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He is remembered each year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a U.S. federal holiday since 1986.
POn December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a secretary of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter, refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama bus and was arrested. Activists, led by Martin Luther King Jr., coordinated a bus boycott that lasted for 381 days. This caused the bus company and local downtown business owners to lose a lot of money. The Supreme Court ruled segregated seating on public buses was unconstitutional in November 1956.
During what became the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr. traveled across the country and around the world. He gave lectures and speeches on nonviolent protest and civil rights. He met with religious leaders, activists, and political leaders. He wrote books and articles and advocated for changes to laws that discriminated against African Americans all around the country. His house was firebombed. He was stabbed. He received death threats, but he did not quit.
King and other Civil Rights leaders used the philosophy of nonviolence during the Birmingham, Alabama campaign of 1963, in which activists used a boycott, sit-ins and marches to protest segregation, unfair hiring practices, and other injustices in one of America’s most racially divided cities. Martin Luther King was arrested for his involvement on April 12, 1963. While he was in jail he wrote “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” an letter to a group of white clergymen who had criticized his tactics. In that letter he defended his use of nonviolent civil disobedience to bring about change.
Later that year, Martin Luther King Jr. worked with a number of civil rights and religious groups to organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He organized a peaceful political rally designed to shed light on the injustices African Americans continued to face across the country. Held on August 28, 1963 the March on Washington was attended by 200,000 to 300,000 people. The March on Washington was thought of as one of the most important moments in the history of the Civil Rights Movement. It helped to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
During the March on Washington, Martin Luther King made his most famous speech, “I Have a Dream.” He called for peace and equality between the races. It was delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial – a monument to the president who a century earlier had brought down the institution of slavery in the United States — he shared his vision of a future in which “this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” Later that year he was named Man of the Year by TIME magazine and in 1964 became the youngest person ever awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
In the spring of 1965, Martin Luther King went to Selma, Alabama to protest for voting rights for African Americans. The protesters were treated very badly and subjected to significant violence, even though they were peaceful. What made Selma different is that the violence was captured on television. The brutal scene outraged many Americans and inspired supporters from across the country to gather in Selma and take part in a march to Montgomery led by King and supported by President Lyndon B. Johnson, who sent in federal troops to keep the peace. That August, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which guaranteed the right to vote – first awarded by the 15th Amendment of the Constitution – to all African Americans.
Later, Martin Luther King began to address issues beyond African American Civil Rights to issues such as the Vietnam War and poverty among Americans of all races. In 1967, he involved himself in a program known as the Poor People’s Campaign, which was to include a massive march on the capital. On the evening of April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot while standing on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tennessee where he had traveled to support a sanitation workers’ strike. He died at the age of 39. After years of campaigning by activists, members of Congress, Coretta Scott King, and many others, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill in 1983 creating a United States federal holiday in honor of Martin Luther King. It is observed on the third Monday in January and was first celebrated in 1986.
Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day. We may celebrate his life and accomplishments one day of the year, but we should celebrate his philosophy every day of every year. And more than that, we should honor him by supporting equality and practicing nonviolence and tolerance and love every day of our lives.